Dorthia Cottrell’s self-titled debut record blends haunting Americana with doom’s roots

unnamed(2)There are many great voices in the world of metal, so many that when I hear people with zero knowledge of the genre act like everyone vocalizes like Cookie Monster, it pisses me off. Case in point? Listen to Windhand’s Dorthia Cottrell weave her magic on the band’s great records and tell me that she isn’t one of the best voices you’ve ever heard. Witness her live and the opinion should double.

So today, we’re lucky to have Cottrell’s debut solo record to talk about, and damn, if this isn’t a great one. Now, make no mistake, this isn’t a metal-centric album. Not at all. Instead, Cottrell travels dusty, winding folk and country roads, piercing at your heart with her honesty and heartbreak, and leaving you never feeling the same way again. In fact, I was playing the record in the car with my wife, and she said that her voice “makes me want to cry.” That’s in a good way, because the voice dug so deep down within her and affected her emotionally, that’s all she could think to do. Cottrell’s husky, smoky singing can do that to you, and you get to hear and see a totally different side to her on this excellent album.

Cottrell coverCottrell is the latest in a long line of metal musicians who have exposed their love for the roots of music and for those singer-songwriters who wore their hearts on their sleeves, bleeding for all to see. Artists including YOB’s Mike Scheidt, USX’s Nate Hall, and Neurosis’ Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till have gone down these same paths and created music markedly different from the bands for which they’re known. Like those artists, Cottrell’s efforts are genuine and come from a real place. It’s not to tack onto some movement. She has spoken of how this style of music is prominent among her family members and that gatherings often spin into long musical sessions. Some of the songs on this album have spanned a decade in the making, so this record has been brewing for some time. Hearing the results is cathartic and moving, a visit with a truly great musician who not only makes the metal world a better place but who has so much more to share with many different styles of music.

Cottrell heads down a dark path right away with “Cemetery Song,” as the acoustics haunt, the track feels both sultry and doomy, and she calls, “This is where forever dies,” instantly chilling your blood. “Gold” is an absolute gem, with vocal melodies that will stick in your head for days on end. The guitars slur and slide, with the piece feeling shadowy and noiry, and Cottrell repeatedly warns, “I know where you’ve been.” “Oak Grove” follows a similar line musically, with the guitars quivering and weeping, the vocals threatening and teasing, and Cottrell wondering, “Are you going to forgive or make me pay?” “Orphan Bird” simmers right away, with the singing stretching out a little further, feeling deliberate in its delivery, and sitars et situated to give the song a far-off, mystical feel. “Vessel” is a bit more atmospheric, with acoustic strums setting the tone and Cottrell’s vocals picking up intensity as the track goes on.

“Maybe It’s True” is the longest of the group at 6:34, and it’s a vulnerable, bleeding thing that will swallow you whole. The melody feels lullaby-style, with the guitars swirling methodically and the words sounding profoundly sad. “Maybe I’ll never be that take-home kind of girl,” Cottrell admits, as the music around her settles into dark, somber corners. “Moth” reminds me a bit, in tone anyway, of Alice in Chains’ old acoustic recordings, with the song buzzing forward, a sense of dread rising, and the atmosphere settling above your head like a storm cloud. “Kneeler” has a heavy country folk feel, with Cottrell gazing at the ominous gallows pole, weaving in some of the record’s most painful moments, delivered by some of her best singing on the album. Next is a strong, pretty faithful take on Townes Van Zandt’s “Rake,” which feels like a fitting tribute to the original artist. “Perennial” goes back to old country roads, ones covered in snow and frost, making like a track that would sound ideally delivered in a smoky cabin, with the fireplace embers glowing. Closer “Song for You” is a stripped-down take on the Graham Parsons classic, which she turns into a naked, vulnerable number that hammers you with emotion sadness. She takes this song and makes it her very own, transforming it into something that could tuck you into bed at night as you do what you can to escape the day’s lingering ghosts.

It’s impossible to walk away from this record unaffected emotionally. Cottrell’s blood is smeared all over the workings of these 11 cuts, and her raw intensity is something to behold. There’s never been any question as to whether Cottrell is a great singer, one in the best in all the metal world. This album only cements her power, proves her meddle, and establishes her as one of modern music’s most gifted, rewarding artists. Those equally moved by both doom and Americana are likely to burst over this thing, and hopefully it’s only Cottrell’s first in a long series of collections that scour her soul for whatever scars she cares to reveal.

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